I want to start with a little story…
I studied music at Concordia University. My principle instrument was guitar. One of the first things that they did with the guitar players in the program was figure out who could read music well and who couldn’t. I didn’t do so well in that test! If you were a good reader you got to go to an ensemble where you were the only guitar player. Nice! But, if you failed your reading test, like me, you got put in something called the “Guitar Ensemble.” This was, like the name indicates, a group made of 8 guitar players, all with similar reading challenges to your own, and drums and bass. The idea was to play arrangements together and get your reading up to speed so you could move on to another ensemble.
We lovingly called our ensemble “The Guitar Army,” and, on other days, we called it the “The Broken Harpsichord.”
I can still picture us trying to read our individual parts, frowns on our faces, maybe our tongues hanging out – something out of a “Far Side” cartoon by Gary Larson. One of the things that I learned in the Guitar Army was that it’s hard to make 8 guitars sound good together. The timbre of the guitar makes it challenging to blend well, to make a nice group sound. Something is always poking out. You can imagine what 8 guitars playing Duke Ellington big band arrangements would sound like.
Not so with ukes…
When I started teaching groups of ukulele players I was very pleased with how the sound of the ukulele blends. It doesn’t have the same problem as the guitar. The voice of the ukulele, blends really nicely in an ensemble. It sounds like a magic harp! This is probably why we see the emergence of so many ukulele orchestras these days.
So, I’d like to share with you an arrangement that I made for groups of uke players. It’s an arrangement of a melody from the New World Symphony by Dvorak. It can be done with as few as 2 or 3 players. Or, it can be played in big groups. My hope is that you would take this arrangement and share it with a group of uke players that you know, and that you can all experience the pleasure of being in a ukulele orchestra. A magic harp band!
There are three main parts to the arrangement.
1. Uke 1
When you listen to this recording, Uke 1 will be in your right speaker or headphone. If you are using headphones, please make sure you have your headphones on the correct ears.
Uke 1 plays the main melody or tune of the song. The melody comes from the C major scale. And starts on the note open E. If you’d like to learn it by ear, I encourage you to do so!
2. Uke 2
The Uke 2 part will be in your left earphone or speaker. It starts out by playing long single notes and gets a little busier later in the arrangement.
3. The Backing Part
The backing part is in the “middle” when you listen. It’s in both the left and right channel. It uses one of the finger-style patterns that we learned in UD#73: Pattern #2. The part is not written out, it is the finger-style pattern applied to the chords of the song. If the finger-style pattern is too tricky, a simple strum will do just as well. There are only 3 chords in the backing part if you’d like to learn it by ear: C, G and Am.
Generally, not many people are needed for the Backing Part. In a group of ten I would put 1 or 2 players on the Backing Part, four players on Uke 1, and four players on Uke 2.
Here is the recording:
Here is the sheet music:
It’s been a pleasure sharing this with you. All the best in your playing.